Lion of the Blogosphere

Is chess declining in popularity?

In October, the New York Times canceled its chess column which had been a feature since 1962.

I think this is evidence of chess’s decline in popularity, although I have had a hard time finding anything definitive on the internet about whether chess is truly declining in popularity, which is perhaps masked by increasing interest in teaching chess in elementary schools, but that could actually in fact be further evidence of chess’s decline, for what used to be considered an entertaining game is now thought of as a learning exercise for small children.

Fifty years ago, what else was there for a nerdy guy to do besides play chess? Personal computers didn’t exist. Even Dungeons and Dragons didn’t exist. And television sucked compared to the quality of what you can watch today. But today, there are so many other entertainment options available, no one has time for chess. The type of people who used to play chess are now playing League of Legends or some other computer game.

Furthermore, I think that computer chess programs have ruined the mystery of chess. No one, not even the world’s best chess player, can consistently beat the top computer chess programs, and I can’t even beat Smallfish (the best free chess program for the iPad) on its easiest “beginner” setting.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 27, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Nerdy stuff

43 Responses

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  1. Chess is raciss. It’s white pieces vs black pieces. White has privledge because it goes first.

    pork chop

    December 27, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    • Assuming two “perfect” players the game is in theory a draw, despite the advantage of white going first.

      slithy toves

      December 28, 2014 at 5:47 pm

  2. I would think it has been declining in popularity since 1975 or so.

    It didn’t help that the greatest American chess player was a crazy person.


    December 27, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    • 1975, one year after the invention of Dungeons and Dragons. Coincidence? I think not.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 27, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      • as the book described or as Dewey described Hitler…

        if he’s crazy, then he’s crazy like a fox.

        McEnroe’s outbursts may have had an effect. he and Fischer were playing a game of chicken.

        when the guy you’re playing chicken with throws the steering wheel and a bunch of empty liquor bottl;es out of the window before you start…he wins!

        the Fischer Karpov match i interpret as Fischer’s fearing he would lose or thinking Karpov so weak that
        “what was the point?”

        at his peak in the candidates matches Fischer was stronger than any before or since save Capi.

        World Moustache Champion

        December 29, 2014 at 3:44 am

    • “crazy”? or crazy? it’s an overused word.

      Fischer’s “delusions”,

      as hateful to some as they have been, as un-pc as they may have been,

      weren’t anything like the delusions of crazy people. and he didn’t hear voices. and he wasn’t “disorganized”. remember he actually beat Spassky in the rematch. and Spassky was still pretty good at the time.

      i read the book Bobby Fischer Goes to War, and i think it very likely that Fischer’s actual father was also Jewish, but…

      Fischer may have been a douche, but he wasn’t crazy, and those in the mass media who describe him as such…well they ARE douches…for sure!

      World Moustache Champion

      December 29, 2014 at 3:33 am

      • He refused to defend his title in 1975.

        Nuff said.


        December 29, 2014 at 12:31 pm

  3. League of Legends et al is more fun:

    -Accurate matchmaking so you don’t get beaten easily by someone much better than you
    -Some of the characters are semi-nude busty girls which are fun to look at (the game is free and makes money selling clothes to dress your sexy avatar in)
    -It is more conspicuously violent than chess, with explosions and guns and magic etc.


    December 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    • League of legends is an asymmetric game where you can chose one player out of a roster of 120+ to play as. It also has hidden information leading to more mind games.

      Chess is symmetric and has perfect information.


      December 27, 2014 at 7:41 pm

  4. Don’t read too much into the Times’ cancellation of the chess column. It also cancelled the weekly Automobiles supplement, and it’s not as if people have lost interest in cars.



    December 27, 2014 at 4:51 pm

  5. Yes, the top chess programs in the world (Shredder, Rybka, Junior, Fritz) overtook the world’s top professionals starting in about 2000 or so. Those top programs can now harness the almost endless computing power of multiple and quad cores and accomplish amazing things, thrashing even the world’s last two champions (Anand and Carlsen) with ease. But these programs aren’t really “playing” chess, they just have the ability to memorize billions of positions and work out the results instantaneously before determining what move is objectively best in complicated positions. Even the most experience chess pro has to deal with fatigue and the possibility of error while going into a taxing deepthink at the board in a tough chess match, while a computer program can calculate the best choice out of 5-10 moves that look like they have the potential to be on the right path.

    Believe it or not, the world’s top professionals in checkers are still holding their own or winning against the top programs.

    An advanced (master-level, or 2300+ in rating) chess player can still thrash any free program like you described, though. Those programs generally don’t have much computing power behind them, and they don’t have the huge amount of databases saved into their memory as a resource.

    When I go out I can usually destroy throse chess game those bartop video machines (even when I’m wasted from doing shots) and people are amazed and laugh.

    Chess in the USA is also suffering with our country becoming more suburban – youths can’t just walk down to their local chess club and play in tournament competitions like Bobby Fischer did as a kid. I’ve got to drive something like 18 miles to reach the one here in Atlanta.


    December 27, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    • The free Smallfish program uses Stockfish, one of the top chess engines. It’s only limited by the computing power of the iPad which is a lot less than a multi-core PC. Even on iPad it can probably beat all but the very top-level players.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 27, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      • Oh, it uses stockfish? wow

        Stockfish is certainly regarded as a very legit chess engine, although it doesn’t have the pedigree (and # of competitions won) as the ones I mentioned.


        December 27, 2014 at 7:27 pm

  6. I stopped playing most games in 1978, but not chess. As a part-time chess teacher the past fifteen years, I saw a lull the past three, but not the past six months when activity has exploded. I think chess is making a comeback.

    James Stripes

    December 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm

  7. Nerd culture has oriented itself more towards Asian stuff. Asians traditionally have not been very good at Western chess (they’re good at Go though, which is kinda like chess).

    I'm back! Lion of Judah/Live-Evil

    December 27, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    • meant to say “East Asian” in my previous post. I’m aware of the South Asian former chess champion Viswanathan Anand.

      I'm back! Lion of Judah/Live-Evil

      December 27, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      • India and China are really taking off in chess in the last decade.

        China just took gold in the most recent chess Olympiad, with India coming in 3rd. It’s a biennial event equivalent to the Olympics of Chess.

        Russian, Armenia and the Ukraine had dominated the top ranks of that event for 40+ years.


        December 27, 2014 at 7:31 pm

  8. The other issue is that chess is a solved problem at low levels.

    These days you don’t get better at chess by playing, you get better by spending more time studying “opening books”.

    Instead of a mix of skill and smarts chess matches are now decided by memory and time invested. Since memorizing opening moves doesn’t offer any other life benefit being good at chess means you wasted a chunk of your life.

    And memorizing the books probably wasn’t even fun.


    December 27, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    • You’re exactly right. To be a serious chess player and improve your results you also have to pore over endgame table databases and theoretical writings as well as analyze all relevant games of other chess players for endless hours.


      December 27, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    • Oh, I see. That is why Chinese and other Asians are excelling at chess. Their just memorizing the solution set discovered by White people.

      As n chess, so in everything else.


      December 27, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    • “their just”?

      and i thought map knew. i thought he was in.

      oh well. and even his assertion is against the fact.

      FIDE’s latest rankings:

      two Chinamen at #18 and #20 and Nakamura at #7. that’s it in the top 20.

      World Moustache Champion

      December 27, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    • the China people supremacists still have to explain the ascendancy of the West for the last 500 years. they know they can’t. so they change the subject. an objective, non-pc reading of history, is that the West is the best…and it always has been. and that if anything the outstanding ancient civilization of E Asia was India, not China.

      it used to be, that is in older studies it was found, that Europeans had greater cranial capacity than NE Asians. what changed? that’s easy. the fetishism of NE Asians by racist morons.

      World Moustache Champion

      December 27, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    • my bad. here it is. two Chinese in top 25 + the American NE Asians Nakamura #7 + the Filipino So #12 (the Filipino Torre was one of Fischer’s last friends)

      Rank Name Title Country Rating Games B-Year
      1 Carlsen, Magnus g NOR 2862 11 1990
      2 Caruana, Fabiano g ITA 2829 11 1992
      3 Grischuk, Alexander g RUS 2810 7 1983
      4 Topalov, Veselin g BUL 2800 0 1975
      5 Aronian, Levon g ARM 2797 7 1982
      6 Anand, Viswanathan g IND 2793 11 1969
      7 Nakamura, Hikaru g USA 2775 11 1987
      8 Karjakin, Sergey g RUS 2773 11 1990
      9 Kramnik, Vladimir g RUS 2769 7 1975
      10 Giri, Anish g NED 2768 11 1994
      11 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar g AZE 2765 11 1985
      12 So, Wesley g USA 2762 0 1993
      13 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime g FRA 2758 13 1990
      14 Adams, Michael g ENG 2745 0 1971
      15 Wojtaszek, Radoslaw g POL 2744 0 1987
      16 Gelfand, Boris g ISR 2743 18 1968
      17 Svidler, Peter g RUS 2743 0 1976
      18 Vitiugov, Nikita g RUS 2738 0 1987
      19 Andreikin, Dmitry g RUS 2737 11 1990
      20 Radjabov, Teimour g AZE 2734 11 1987
      21 Jobava, Baadur g GEO 2733 11 1983
      22 Jakovenko, Dmitry g RUS 2732 19 1983
      23 Ding, Liren g CHN 2732 7 1992
      24 Naiditsch, Arkadij g GER 2731 3 1985
      25 Li, Chao b g CHN 2730 16 1989

      it is fair to say chess has become less Jewish. perhaps because Jews now have better things to do. but they’ve fallen off in some other areas according to Unz. they go to B-school or law school now when they once earned PhDs.

      World Moustache Champion

      December 28, 2014 at 12:05 am

  9. “And television sucked”

    Suck/sucked in this context is CLASSIC prole speech.


    December 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    • yeah i admit i’m too autistic to know when lion is kidding or if he isn’t always kidding.

      i got cable for the world cup once. there was absolutely nothing on it worth watching. except the world cup. that Uruguay vs Ghana game was great. and forlan deserved the golden ball.

      as far as i can tell mass entertainment has always been crap and has just become more varied—more varied crap.

      World Moustache Champion

      December 27, 2014 at 10:37 pm

  10. computers still can’t play go. iirc they still can’t beat the best humans at bridge.

    the greatest go player of the 20th c died recently at age 100. go seigen 1914-2014.

    World Moustache Champion

    December 27, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    • Wu Qingyuan. (He was a Chinese who chose to live in Japan). But go (weichi) is not a big money game like Chess so not too much was put into there to computerize it.

      toos is god

      December 29, 2014 at 3:50 pm

  11. Some old timers have claimed chess is overrated as an intellectual activity and that Whist is the true game for thinkers.


    December 27, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    • Normally people recommend Go as a better game than chess, but Go hasn’t really taken off in the West.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 27, 2014 at 10:23 pm

      • Chess will always be a great game with a history full of great stories and personalities.

        The forklift didn’t do away with human weightlifting competitions.

        Thanks for the smallfish tip. Kicking it’s ass at the intermediate level and loving it.

        Ears Thyrel

        December 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      • my guess is that if crowd sourcing were applied to chess…if the crowd were grandmasters…rybka, stockfish, komodo, etc. would lose every time.

        World Moustache Champion

        December 29, 2014 at 4:10 am

  12. In my small town New England high school, back in the 1980s, the chess club was the refuge of weird social outcasts. None of those kids were in my AP classes or on any kind of track to success. I guess it is possible that one or two of them was a hidden genius born into a prole family, but as far as I know none of those kids seemed to have amounted to much. In our social world smart geeky kids played with computers or became musicians, smart social kids learned how to sail or play golf. Only people who wanted to die virgins played chess. It always struck me as odd that European intellectuals like Nabokov or Stefan Zweig rated chess so highly.

    Peter Akuleyev

    December 28, 2014 at 2:50 am

  13. I should also mention my town had a Jewish population of zero. I think Jews have probably managed to keep chess alive as a prestige sport in places like New York and the Boston suburbs. WASPs turned against chess a long time ago, maybe even as a reaction to Jewish success in the early 20th century.

    Peter Akuleyev

    December 28, 2014 at 2:55 am

  14. Didn’t the the nytimes recently have lay offs? Maybe they saw fit to get rid of the chess columnist while cleaning house.

    Far from declining in popularity, internet chess is booming. However over the board chess may be dying out, though it was never wildly popular to begin with except for a brief zenith after the 1972 match.

    As far as top players go, they’re demanding more money & better accommodations than ever before, for less chess. So there’s been a strain in obtaining sponsorship for matches. The 1972 match had more than 20 games while the last WC had 10. And with all the computer prep going into matches the games can be predictable and boring.

    You should play internet chess against opponents of a similar level, that would be a lot more exciting than being trampled by a chess engine that plays chess most people will never be able to comprehend.

    slithy toves

    December 28, 2014 at 2:28 pm

  15. Lion, do you have any thoughts on the game “Diplomacy?”


    December 28, 2014 at 2:50 pm

  16. my bad. here it is. two Chinese in top 25 + the American NE Asians Nakamura #7 + the Filipino So #12 (the Filipino Torre was one of Fischer’s last friends)

    Fabiano Caruana (currently world #2) was born in Miami and raised in Park Slope, he’s effectively American. He now plays for Italy because both of his parents are dual Italian citizens.


    December 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm

  17. i wondered how good “smallfish” was. so i downloaded it, or thought i had from the Apple site.

    instead i got a whole bunch of Apple shit and no smallfish. “bonjour” whatever the f that is wouldn’t let me uninstall it.

    Apple isn’t only bad taste and GAY. it’s criminal.

    the most valuable company in the world is a criminal organization. drrr!

    World Moustache Champion

    December 28, 2014 at 9:50 pm

  18. Its really the computer programs solving Chess. It turned out that the game was more about memorization and calculation than strategy.


    December 28, 2014 at 10:36 pm

  19. Chess ceased to become hip when it began to be associated with blacks playing it. Apparently some blacks learned to play it while in prison and that habit stuck.

    toos is god

    December 29, 2014 at 3:54 pm

  20. The “real” chess for humans is Chess960 (invented by Bobby Fischer) where the pieces are shuffled into unordinary starting positions:

    It’s a whole new world of chess.


    December 29, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    • It’s a shame FRC never really caught on.

      I wonder how many variations of piece placement went on 1000+ yrs ago before they settled on standard positions.

      slithy toves

      January 1, 2015 at 6:18 pm

      • and i have read…on the interwebs…that without opening book and endgame table bases the best chess engines are not better than the best grandmasters.

        what’s the FRC human vs machine record? is there one?

        World Moustache Champion

        January 2, 2015 at 6:21 am

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